Several weeks ago I cozied up with my laptop and a warm cup of tea in my bedroom. I got out my journal and pen and settled in for a long awaited session with Jessica Boylston-Fagonde of Brand Thyself with Jess, a RuYoga Design offering. The familiar ring of the Skype call heightened my anticipation of this discussion. Jess was her usual warm self when she answered. We exchanged lighthearted greetings and my nerves began to calm as she explained that I didn’t need to over think my answers but please “Don’t edit yourself.” The reason she asks this of her clients is, as Jess says, “When we can express ourselves freely it gives us an opportunity to be more creative/authentic (insecurities go away), which is how I get to see the ‘true expression’ of a teacher’s nature, and I want teacher’s to not hold back, we have 2-hours to cover a lot of content.” I trust Jess and respect her as a colleague so the idea of just speaking the truth without reservation actually seemed very liberating and appealing.
“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening, that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost.”
~ Martha Graham
Jess shares this quote with me as we begin. She repeats it and allows some moments of silence to pass as the gravity of the statement begins to press upon me. It really is a profound idea and I understand why she offers this thought first. We are going to spend the next few hours digging through my life experiences and try to determine what it is that I bring to the mat as a teacher entrusted to guide my students through a practice that is physical YET far beyond the earthly at the same time. As a teacher, I (like many others) often cue students to set an intention for their practice. I do take this very seriously. To do anything without intention, even something that seems positive or harmless, is dangerous. If we are not aware of our reasons for acting, then we may be executing someone else’s intentions or possibly acting for reasons that could be harmful in their nature. I even tell students that if they are practicing because they want a svelte body, that is fine, but they should know if that is the reason and they should probably ask themselves WHY a svelte body is important to them to attain. Or if they are seeking something of more depth, the practice is an opportunity to use their present moment awareness to aid them.
As we have all witnessed scandals from various teachers in the yoga world, it is definitely a time for every instructor to closely examine why they enter the studio and stand at the front of the room.
Jess had me relay my first studio class experience and we discussed what teachers I’ve practiced with, what has influenced me and what keeps me coming back as a student. We also examined my motivations for signing up to do a teacher training, what my expectations were and the real reasons that I arrive to teach every day.
She was interested in my perceptions of myself and the way that I am viewed by others in my family, circle of friends as well as my students.
It was a raw and honest exploration that brought some real insight and helped me crystallize my relationship to yoga personally and professionally. I now feel like I have an even more solid foundation from which to serve my students and to continue to grow my own practice.
Jess’s questions are very deliberate. She is an acute listener whose measured responses leave room for you to continue digging into the heart of your answers. Even when I was trying to be completely open, she had a way of perfectly forming an inquiry that would help me peel back yet another layer so the truth could be unveiled. I got far more from the experience than I imagined possible and have found that the session is continuing to serve me on my other career paths as well as in my own classroom instruction. It was an invaluable conversation and I highly recommend it to any yoga professional who is seriously trying to work in this industry full-time.
So, what did I uncover? And how has it impacted my instruction? Happiness and emotional well-being has always been of interest to me (as it is for most people!) But I really have been delving deeper into the research that has been done on the psychology of happiness and how it has been discovered that happiness is truly sourced internally…that there are actual parameters for how much external sources can impact our well-being and sense of being happy. Not surprisingly, the conclusions found by the psychologists and researchers falls very much in line with yogic philosophy and practice techniques. I am now utilizing more precise meditation cues and specific lessons from the Yoga Sutras in my classes to aid students in the process of internally mining their own bliss in a way that is relatable and accessible in our current, modern culture. I am also working to emphasize the importance of prioritizing their happiness (when it is based on intrinsic values) as it benefits not just them but also their families and the world at large (service to the community being a significant component of internally-sourced bliss). This trajectory is in alignment with my Ayurvedic professional practice as well. It has been remarkable to watch everything I learned from my session with Jess weave seamlessly into these healing and therapeutic modalities. Whether in an asana group class, a therapeutic private yoga session or during an Ayurvedic consultation, the end goal of these practices has become crystal clear for me and I now have a very specific methodology for reaching that goal (to empower individuals to take responsibility for their mind/body well-being).
Jess will be teaching 3 workshops in San Francisco on Sept 7th, 8th, 9th, and speaking at the Southeast Yoga Conference in Atlanta, Ga. Oct 5th, as well as offering workshops at Iowa City Yoga Festival the following weekend. To learn more about Jess’ schedule, 1-on-1 sessions, and her online interactive course called ARCHEOLOGICAL DIG TO YOUR HEART, visit www.brandthyself.com and yoga-inspired brand identity solutions at www.ruyogadesign.com.
Q & A with Jess
JE: The work we did together was called “branding”. I think the term “brand” as it relates to your work is much different than the word as it refers to a trademarked brand, for example, Anusara or Bikram, etc. What does “branding” really mean to you and why do you recommend teachers “brand” themselves?
JBF: At the core what branding means to me is clarity. The fundamental branding questions used to decipher a brand—who are you, what do you have to offer, and how is it uniquely different—is an invitation to a deeper conversation when applied to a person, especially a yoga teacher. I called this method Brand Thyself, as a call to action to “know thyself”—to know who you are and what you have to offer as a teacher. And just as importantly, how does this offering benefit students and the community. My approach with Brand Thyself is an exploratory process to reveal each teacher’s unique offering from the inside out. ‘Knowing’ this sets a strong foundation for your career path, and helps you settle into your purpose and carry out your mission more confidently. The means in which I use branding is a tool for strengthening your offering, becoming aware of your greatest assets (the good, bad, ugly, and beautiful), aligning to what means the most to you, and bringing your message to the community with authenticity and integrity.
JE: How did this line of work evolve for you and what is the most satisfying aspect of helping teachers identify their authentic offering?
JBF: My main line of work and study since 1997 has been in the fields of marketing, branding, and film—process, concept, identity, and expression for independent, and small and medium sized businesses. Since 2005, I’ve had the good fortune to work with yoga teachers on their brand identity solutions via my businesses, RuConcept and RuYoga Design. Evolving into Brand Thyself has become a deeply fulfilling experience. It’s allowed me the opportunity to use many facets of my professional and personal life (all things dear to me) to bring a unique experience to assist teachers on their career path.
The most satisfying aspect of guiding teachers to identify their authentic offering is when we arrive at the teacher’s core message. For me the core message is the bull’s eye of the conversation—it’s what anchors us closely to the heart, where we really start to see what matters most to a teacher, and how this realization can help a teacher recognize their purpose more clearly. When a teacher lights up from having a deeper connection and understanding about why they’re here to teach, what’s driving their purpose, and how this understanding can impact their mission and message in the world, I feel honored to be present in that discovery.
JE: You’ve spoken with a LOT of teachers and helped them to solidify a mission for their professional life. What is one of the biggest pitfalls you’ve heard teachers relay to you over and over again? Are there common mistakes that we all make or challenges that we all face as yoga instructors?
JBF: The biggest obstacle relayed to me by teachers is not having enough clarity about their offering as a teacher. Some teachers realize fractions of it, but aren’t able to see it as fully as they’d like, nor in a unique way. As a result I’ve found that for some teachers this may lead to professional difficulties, such as, lack of direction which can lead to burn out or feeling stuck; short of inspiration and creativity; not finding one’s true voice; missing a deeper connection with their mission; low self-esteem; or even unhealthy competition. Naturally, these challenges can stem from other conditions too. Though some teachers have expressed to me that by gaining more clarity about their offering, they are able to achieve a healthier relationship with their challenge(s), and even have breakthroughs.